This is one of my favorite psalms, and for a variety of reason, I truly love this setting of it.
Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke
by Mary (Sidney) Herbert,
Countess of Pembroke
O LORD, O Lord, in me there lieth nought
But to thy search revealed lies,
For when I sit
Thou markest it;
No less thou notest when I rise;
Yea, closest closet of my thought
Hath open windows to thine eyes.
Thou walkest with me when I walk;
When to my bed for rest I go,
I find thee there,
Not youngest thought in me doth grow,
No, not one word I cast to talk
But yet unuttered thou dost know.
If forth I march, thou goest before,
If back I turn, thou com'st behind:
So forth nor back
Thy guard I lack,
Nay on me too, thy hand I find.
Well I thy wisdom may adore,
But never reach with earthy mind.
To shun thy notice, leave thine eye,
O whither might I take my way?
To starry sphere?
Thy throne is there.
To dead men's undelightsome stay?
There is thy walk, and there to lie
Unknown, in vain I should assay.
O sun, whom light nor flight can match,
Suppose thy lightful flightful wings
Thou lend to me,
And I could flee
As far as thee the evening brings:
Even led to west he would me catch,
Nor should I lurk with western things.
Do thou thy best, O secret night,
In sable veil to cover me:
Thy sable veil
Shall vainly fail;
With day unmasked my night shall be,
For night is day, and darkness light,
O father of all lights, to thee.
Each inmost piece in me is thine:
While yet I in my mother dwelt,
All that me clad
From thee I had.
Thou in my frame hast strangely dealt:
Needs in my praise thy works must shine
So inly them my thoughts have felt.
Thou, how my back was beam-wise laid,
And raft'ring of my ribs, dost know;
Know'st every point
Of bone and joint,
How to this whole these parts did grow,
In brave embroid'ry fair arrayed,
Though wrought in shop both dark and low.
Nay fashionless, ere form I took,
Thy all and more beholding eye
My shapeless shape
Could not escape:
All these time framed successively
Ere one had being, in the book
Of thy foresight enrolled did lie.
My God, how I these studies prize,
That do thy hidden workings show!
Whose sum is such
No sum so much,
Nay, summed as sand they sumless grow.
I lie to sleep, from sleep I rise,
Yet still in thought with thee I go.
My God, if thou but one wouldst kill,
Then straigh would leave my further chase
This cursed brood
Inured to blood,
Whose graceless taunts at thy disgrace
Have aimed oft; and hating still
Would with proud lies thy truth outface.
Hate not I them, who thee do hate?
Thine, Lord, I will the censure be.
Detest I not
The cankered knot
Whom I against thee banded see?
O Lord, thou know'st in highest rate
I hate them all as foes to me.
Search me, my God, and prove my heart,
Examine me, and try my thought;
And mark in me
If ought there be
That hath with cause their anger wrought.
If not (as not) my life's each part,
Lord, safely guide from danger brought.
There is an ease and a beauty here that does not show in the sinewy and strident translations of Milton. There is also a music here that is lost in most other translations (the exceptions being the 1662 BCP and the King James and some of its predecessors.) You can imagine this psalm set to music, to baroque music--trumpets and flourishes. Unlike the weedy, thin and well-nigh indecipherable knots of words that we call our modern translations. No grandeur, no stateliness. What can one say of this:
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me;
you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name.
Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar.
Sounds like the work of an extraterrestrial stalker.
Consider a point I made a day or so ago. How we speak may have some influence on our thought. It would seem that when we speak of God we should do so in the best way possible. That is, that the prayers we recite and the psalms we sing should be formulated in words the best reflect the majesty of their Subject.
Taste varies, and often people say that poetry is such a subjective art. And yet, we all know, nearly instinctually what makes a great poem, what makes a sing-song rhyme, and what makes an execrable butchery of the language. Can you imagine an ancient Hebrew poem in which the word "probed" is actually used? Or one in which the utterly prosaic and ghastly, "Even though I walk through a dark valley. . ." It is no wonder our prayer lives are so hampered if these are a materials we are given to start with. They treat God and his word as if he were our Home Boy or our local Val. Like, AS IF.
Okay, I've bent your ear enough. But we can do better than what is presently put before us, and we should strive to do so, seeking out not merely adequate, but truly magnificent translations--words that stir the heart and stick in the brain.